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Time to tackle...interviewing classroom teachers

Experts offer their advice to ensure you make the most of the interview process to find the best candidate for the job

Grainne Hallahan

An Interview Waiting Room With No Candidates

Typically, a classroom teacher interview will include a tour, a panel interview and an observed lesson. 

It's a well-established structure but you still have to ensure each phase is given due focus and consideration to have the best chance of finding the best candidate.

Tes spoke to a mix of school leaders to ask for their top tips on this crucial aspect of school life.

Lesson briefs

Seeing how a teacher puts together a lesson is a great way to assess their abilities, so setting a good lesson brief is vital.

But what should you set? How much detail should you give the candidates? How can you ensure you really see a candidate’s true abilities? Is there a perfect interview brief?

Chris Hildrew, author of Growing a Growth Mindset School and headteacher at Churchill Academy in North Somerset, found an interesting task on Twitter that injected a bit of creativity into the day.

“When I was head of English I would send out a picture – a photograph or a painting – and ask candidates to teach a lesson inspired by that picture. That led to some very interesting and creative lessons.”

Meanwhile, Siobhan Collingwood, headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, adds that a lesson plan should ideally have a relevance to a school’s focus areas.

“If, as a school, we need to focus on a specific issue – for example reading – then I will set a lesson that will show me if this candidate will be equipped to move that forward with us.

Both Hildrew and Collingwood agree that whatever you decide, it must be the same task to ensure a fair point of comparison.

“We always use the same brief so you have a level playing field to which judge the different candidates.”

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What to look for during the lesson

For Dame Alice Hudson, executive headteacher of Twyford CofE Academies Trust, nothing beats watching a teacher in front of a class.

“The way the candidate teaches their lesson is really significant,” she says.

“We watch really carefully to see, beyond the tricks and flicks the person might feel they want to put out there, and towards what the candidate really shows of their own personality during the course of the lesson.”

This is because Dame Alice believes that observing a lesson gives you a chance to see an honest representation of what the teacher is really like.

“This is a telling thing because you can prepare a lesson really well, but actually it is very hard to disguise your own character in the way you deliver that lesson.”

Patrick Cragg, head of English at a secondary school in West London, advises setting a written task of writing a model answer to a GCSE exam question for classroom teacher interviews.

“I want to recruit teachers with excellent subject knowledge, who can model exam skills to all our learners, including the highest-achieving. I think most applicants would welcome a chance to show off their enthusiasm and their best ideas.”

That’s is not to say that there is only one way. One teacher recently wrote in Tes about how they actively don’t monitor the teacher at interview but instead use feedback from pupils, teaching assistants and the work children produce as a guide.

Joining the team

Planning in time to allow the candidate to meet other members of the department is also very important. After all, this will be the team they will be working with, and an appointment of a person who doesn’t gel with the existing members could leave you advertising the post again before the year has finished.

One teacher, who found themselves working with a new member of staff who was appointed in a rush without having met the team, spoke to Tes anonymously about their feelings regarding appointing a member of staff who clashes with the existing teachers.

“It is essential that any new member of staff fits in with the existing ethos of the department,” they said.

“Like-minded members of staff allow for harmony and fluidity – sharing resources, planning lessons and understanding what is useful for the rest of the team is the ideal way to run a successful department.”

As such, when interviewing and observing the teacher, you have to try to find out if they are going to fit in with the department ethos from a professional perspective and social one, too.

"The children will know if teachers support each other!”

Educational philosophy vs qualifications and experience? 

When you are recruiting new teachers and leaders, you will always be balancing up their educational philosophy, and their qualifications and experience.

But when you are faced with a candidate who fits perfectly in terms of their educational philosophy and yet doesn’t have the experience or qualifications of other suitable candidates, what do you do?

After reading Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player, Dr Rob Petrie of Cockermouth School in Cumbria, decided to appoint for attitude, because skills can be developed by the school. 

“For us, attitude and attributes are more important than listed skills. We can develop teaching skills, but it’s much harder to teach the right attitude," he says.

"So, yes, we look for a certain level of teaching competence but our interview processes are all about whether you have the right attitude and, of course, whether we’re right for you."

Jo Facer, principal of Ark Soane secondary school, agrees that ideology is very important and should be something teachers take seriously.

“Alignment is the key for me. I have ‘rejected’ brilliant candidates because they ultimately did not share our vision. 

“As leaders, we need to work out our red lines. A poor teacher can improve. Someone who undermines what the school stands for can break it.”

As such, it is important to assess how teachers appear to respond to feedback and if they could therefore be developed into exactly what the school needs.

“I think you can fill in gaps if they are responsive to feedback and the way they respond to your critiques at interview should tell you that.”

The panel

Gone are the days of a panel of grumpy portentous grey-suited grumps, with the sole aim of intimidating the  candidate.

Instead, as Dame Alice explains, you need a mix of people who meet the safeguarding requirements. “You want to have a range of stakeholders representing the job itself.

"You might have the head of department, and the headteacher or equivalent,” she suggests. “It’s good to have a parent governor to have another perspective,” she says.  

But she cautions against overloading the panel as you risk undermining the whole process.

“Too many people on the panel can be bewildering for the candidate and can leave you with too many points of view.”

Scoring the whole interview

It’s common to score an interview but how should that work in practice?

Collingwood scores using numbers or letters, but she cautions against taking a rigid approach to these scores.

“You can miss stuff when you’re listening, so it’s really important to compare and adjust afterwards,” she says.

“It’s good if you can have a bit of flexibility because, if you get too tight on your scoring, you can end up appointing a candidate who you’ve marked highly but your gut instinct is telling you something different to what your marks have said.”

The aftermath

Telling people they’ve got the job is the nice bit...but, sadly, you’ll also have to deliver bad news to candidates throughout the process.

Rather than shy away and leave applicants wondering where they went wrong, though, Hannah Boydell, head of HR at Rendcomb College, advocates being open with those who don’t proceed to an appointment.

“Treat all your applicants as you would a new starter,” she says.

“This has been my approach and, recently, because we did, we ended up contacting someone who had been unsuccessful applicant a few months later to see if they were interested in a different role – and they were glad to be contacted again.”

If the thought of the workload is making you shudder, Boydell reassures that it needn’t be arduous. “Nothing long-winded: ‘Thank you for applying, but not this time’ will suffice at application stage.”

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Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

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